Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 32
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
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The Summer Months Are a Busy Time for Many in Princeton School District

Ellen Gilbert

“Many people still ask, ‘What happens in the schools during the summer?’” observed Princeton Regional School District Superintendent Judy Wilson recently. The answer is: a lot.

“Hundreds of students are being well-served in a couple of dozen programs covering a wide range of interests and topics,” reported Ms. Wilson. “After a host of enrichment classes offered in July, August offerings include a class on college essay writing, and SAT preparation at the high school. Of special note is a new reading program, READ 180, a reading intervention curriculum being offered at John Witherspoon Middle School. It has a good research base behind it and mixes technology and software with literature discussions. Special education extended-year classes are serving dozens of students with better quality classes at lower cost than out-of-district programs. A few students in the ESL (English as a Second Language) class have been in the country less than a month!”

World Language, ESL, and Bilingual Supervisor Priscilla Russel, described the goal of LEAP (Learning English Across Programs), a literacy-based program for English Language Learners from entering K to grade 12, as “helping English language learners keep their language skills sharp during the summer by meeting daily for four weeks in the morning at Community Park Elementary School. We especially welcome English Language Learners who will enter the Princeton schools in September. LEAP participants meet from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and then a cohort of 8th through 12th graders stay for lunch and Math LEAP, which meets three days a week until 3 p.m.”

The District also offered a federally-funded Chinese Immersion program under STARTALK, the newest component of the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI), which seeks to expand and improve the teaching and learning of strategically important world languages that are not now widely taught in the U.S. “This is the program’s and our third year,” said Ms. Russel. “Our program is named Rutgers/Princeton/West Windsor because we are a collaborative effort to train teachers as well as teaching students. It is, if I may be immodest, a wonderful program and is recognized as the model for STARTALK day programs.” The Chinese Immersion classes met at PHS where it began each day with tai chi exercises on the front lawn. There were 65 participants in four classes; PHS Mandarin teacher Shwu-Fen Lin was among the teachers.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Bonnie Lehat reported on the completion of a summer transition program for incoming K through grade 2 students. “It’s really a program for kids to become comfortable moving into new grade levels,” she noted. “The focus is on language arts and mathematics. Older students in grades 3 to 5 participated in STARRS, a program that Ms. Lehat described as “training for academic rigor, readiness, and success. A similar program for middle schoolers — incoming sixth through outgoing eighth graders — focused on language and mathematics, with some major changes, including added guidance and study skills components.”

Ms. Lehat described the STARRS instructional model as including “all of the kids working with a teacher in a large group and focusing on a video or story to engage them. Then they break up into smaller groups with three different stations. In one, an adaptive computer program finds a student’s reading level and pushes them beyond it. In another, children do their independent reading with a book or audio book of their own choice with a metacognitive coaching component that asks them how to think about the work as a reader. The third option is a small group session with the teacher. Each rotation lasts for twenty minutes.” Ms. Lehat noted that this “brand new program is just getting off the ground,” and that “it will be used during the school year on a small group basis.”

District summer school experiences were not limited to classroom learning: students participated in several field trips, including a visit to The College of New Jersey, and a symposium at Princeton University where middle school students were able to see what PUPP (Princeton University Preparatory Program) participants are doing.” PUPP is an academic and cultural enrichment program that supports high achieving, low income high school students from local districts. The multi-year, tuition-free program prepares participants for admission and ongoing success within selective colleges and universities. The visiting students “were excited and began to think about what they could do next summer,” said Ms. Lehat.

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